Sometimes You’ve Gotta Slaughter a Few Sacred Cows

Today I got two bits of sad news in quick succession. I’ll leave the second for again but the first made me sad.

Bob Allard, former Reprographics Manager at the University and a guy with whom I worked closely died last week. He had cancer. I only heard the previous week he was unwell, but as is often the case I didn’t realise how unwell he was.

Bob and I had as much in common as a Muslim and a pork processor. He was as English as could be. He referred repeatedly to going to Londonderry. As a former RAF man he was loyally British. He proudly talked of the visit by Her Majesty for the campus back when it was still the plain old NUU.

His background in the armed forces made him quite certain that black was black and white was white. Never the twain did meet. I know of staff in the University that would rather not do something than incur the wrath of Bob. He was unreconstructed old school. Big time.

Although he was the Reprographics Manager, he had another name for himself and a badge made up to match. Logo Cop. He was charged with maintaining the integrity of the University of Ulster’s logo following its introduction and subsequent roll out. He had a device that he would whip out at the slightest provocation to view the dot spread of the logo and would robustly point out any errors in sizing or printing. He could give chapter and verse on the logo, frequently did and it didn’t matter whether it was the Vice-Chancellor or a secretary, Bob made exceptions for no-one.

Once we commisssioned a VAT consultant to come in and advise us how to claim back VAT, what was exempt etc. With this guy, Bill was his name,the first ten minutes were free and then he charged by the fifteen minute block. And boy did he know how to charge. As a former VAT inspector now gamekeeper turned poacher his advice was excellent. Expensive but excellent. He was also prone to bullshit about two other topics. Manchester United and Golf. He met his match though.

When he came to see us in my office, Bob was ready for him. After the pleasantries were completed (very quickly I might add) Bob whipped out his list of pre-prepared questions followed by a dictaphone which he placed on the meeting table. As the meeting began he proceeded to interrogate Mr VATman – in detail! Not only did he get VFM for his paid for slot, he also covered a fair bit of our ground in the free ten minute slot. The meeting didn’t last long at all. And it was all there on tape too so there could be no confusion and we could listen again to the specific points at our leisure. I think we recovered about twenty grand.

He was a canny wee bollocks. Old school, difficult, cussed and contrary. He also however had a good sense of humour, although he was quite sexist in a Sid James sort of way (to whom he also bore a slight resemblance). He wore driving gloves when driving and it was easy for us to imagine him in his flying gear, up there taking pictures.

He had previously served in the RAF as a photographer and on his wall hung a picture of an RAF Spitfire. He had been given the picture as a gift by a Polish airman who’s life he had saved. He was vague on the details but the picture had special significance to him.

Once when his office was relocated to the Cavehill building – in effect the graveyard of the University – he suffered a break in and was visibly distraught when he learned the burglars had stolen his Spitfire photograph amongst other things. It was of immense sentimental value and he was deeply upset at its loss. The people that stole it of course had no idea of its value and no doubt dumped it somewhere unaware of the stress they caused. It was never recovered.

Bob finished his time at the University and enjoyed a number of years retirement, doing some work for the RAF on its history in the North West.

Although we had little in common we worked on a good many projects together and he was a loyal and dedicated colleague whose work and opinion I and others valued. Those who knew what he did knew it could only work if done Bob’s way. Otherwise, it was the highway. His name still brings a smile among those of us that worked with him.

One thought on “Sometimes You’ve Gotta Slaughter a Few Sacred Cows

  1. Well said, Joe.

    I learned a lot from Bob, in an anti-learning type of way. His dedication to detail and the letter of the law sometimes exacerbated situations where a bit of give and take would have solved matters quickly (what’s a millimetre between friends, after all?). He commanded respect in his working life, even if it was based sometimes on fear. I regret that we never got to know the real Bob underneath a bit better – the man with the Man from Del Monte suit lording it in his usual Florida haunt. We never got to meet Mrs Bob, though we heard about her often in an Arfur Daley “‘er indoors” way. I always thought a proper night out with Bob would have been a right laugh.

    Yes he did have some almost music hall attitudes, but he was a proper gentleman in the real sense of proper. All he ever wanted was for things to be ‘correct’ and that was a good thing.

    RIP Bob.

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